France ~ First trip. Putting the last pieces together.

Reflection of boats in the water in La Rochelle, France

Of all our recent travels, this France trip was by far the one we have been waiting for with the most excitement.

Mission

  • Fountaine Pajot factory tour
  • Paris Boat Show
  • Drop off first bunch of stuff in our boat container
  • Meet our aftermarket outfitter, Pierre, at Uchimata
  • Enjoy France

First Impression

Matt pointing to our large stack of luggage

We have too much luggage.  To be fair, that was the plan.  Picking up the boat in La Rochelle has been a logistics nightmare.  Over the past year or more, we have been toggling back and forth whether we should ship our stuff there or buy our stuff there.  There are pros and cons to both scenarios.   We have finally decided to ship our stuff there, but during this trip to France, we had not committed to this decision yet.  So we packed a ton and logged what was in each piece.  What is done is done.

We’ll explain why we chose to ship and other things in our next post, an overview about where are we now in all this.

The plan was to drive from Paris to La Rochelle.  We decided not to use the train, thinking it would be such a hassle carry all this baggage planes, trains, and automobiles (two taxis per occasion) in and out of multiple hotels across the country of France.  So we would drive to La Rochelle and enjoy the country along the way.  Sounds lovely…

We got to the airport, switched out our Le Car to a La Mini Station Wagon and we were off to the hotel for our first night in Paris.  We caught up with the rest of our Atlantic Cruising Yachts group and had some dinner.  Next day, headed out for La Rochelle with a stop at Chateau d’Amboise.

Driving in Paris was crazy as you might guess.  Same side of the street and driver’s side as the US, so we caught a break there.  The streets tho.  France has the same concept but everything is switched around a bit and multiplied.  Since nothing truly was the same, your eyes were set ablaze, frantically scrambling around looking for something, anything to help bring some instruction and order to the forefront.

It was truly inspiring that all the native drivers/walkers/motorbikers were so confident.  We were in awe how they would assert themselves with such conviction.  We, on the other hand, were not so sure and received a lot of guidance.  Knowing exactly where and when to stop and go was especially unclear.  So confused by which stop light was intended for us, we found it prudent several times to stop in the middle of the road.  We did not despair, for our friendly French neighbors continuously came to our aid and would sound the alarm if we took off too early or too late…. or too close or too slow, hahahaha.  Exciting times for sure.  Loved it!

Chateau d'Amboise

Chateau d’Amboise is a castle with a lively past from several kings residing to becoming a prison, from destruction and abandonment to restoration, but/and, most notably, holds the tomb of Leonardo da Vinci in its chapel.  Not particularly a very lavish castle, and from its past, you can reason why.  This castle has definitely had its ups and downs.  Inside was dark and cold.  Besides boasting of being the final burial site for the infamous Leonardo da Vinci, a total legend and arguably the most intriguing man to come out of that time, the masonry was particularly spectacular.   We spent hours and hours and hours enjoying this and that.  The only bummer was every place to eat was closed up for the winter or not serving food, so we came hungry and left starving.

Did you know?

Did you know there are speed cameras in France?  No?  Us either… 😐

It went down exactly like this:

Matt:  Did you just see a flash?

Em:  Yep.

Surprise!!  And we’ll be getting that thank you note soon.  Not sure when, but it will come.  We can only hop e at this point that there will be only one.  We know a guy who got 5 tickets, sooo… yeah, we’ll see just how many thank you notes we get. 

To find out what happened 

La Rochelle

La Rochelle was everything I imagined France to be.  This is when France really became a wonderful destination and I felt like a tourist.  I finally transported to… France!!  The streets, the buildings, the shops, the restaurants, the people, everything.  Loved, loved, loved it.   My eyes twinkle at the thought of what it will be like in the summer when we return to pick up Sea Odyssey.  Yes, I said twinkle and I meant it.  You know it must be special when the french people themselves go there for their vacation.  

I could never describe it properly so I patched and augmented this lovely sentence from Wiki –

Known as La Ville Blanche (the White City), La Rochelle’s luminous limestone façades glow in the bright coastal sunlight and its beautiful arcaded walkways, half-timbered houses with slated tiles, ghoulish gargoyles, and fabulous collection of lighthouses will leave you feeling enchanted with its lovely french port town energy and seafaring heritage.

We can completely understand why travelers want to stay forever every place they go.  You actually have to set your mind to leave and promise yourself you’ll come back.  Yeah, I can see this definitely becoming an issue.

Factory Tour

The Fountaine Pajot factory tour was like totally top secret.  No pictures or videos allowed inside.  Well, we found out that they preferred no pics outside also, so we’ll just use these generic ones.  They didn’t ask us to delete any.

So we pulled up in four Mercedes Benz limo vans in tight formation.  You might’ve seen it on facebook.  So cool, very presidential.  I have always wondered who was in those motorcades.  Now I know… it’s just regular schmoes like us!  LOL.  We looked sharp tho.  We definitely arrived when we arrived.

As far as the tour went, there is nothing like seeing where it all begins.  It would have been the ultimate if we had seen a part of Sea Odyssey, but alas, we did not.  So close tho.  We are hull #95.  They were up to hull #92.  Other people in our group did see theirs and that was really cool to see.  <3  They were so happy.

Fountaine Pajot is not a huge production factory but growing every day.  For now, it is a small place and each worker plays a good part of each boat.  That’s really nice.  The founder, Jean-François Fountaine, along with his pals started the company in 1976.  He has now let go of his company while he works as mayor of La Rochelle.

There is a short 4 min. video with some cool old pics and light history of Fountaine Pajot’s (the company) humble beginnings here if you are interested.  Super cool to see Jean-François scratch out a boat one at a time, looking all young and 70’s cool.  Anyway, check it out…

Again, food was an issue

If you read our article, Tahiti – Real World Lessons, then you know… food was an issue.  LOL.  Unfortunately, France was no different.  Food was an issue.  I never thought that would have been the case but it so was.  The strange thing about it was every snack counter and lunch place had the same exact food… I mean this literally.  Sooo.  Strange.   Rows and rows of pre-made baguette sandwiches, pastries, and bread.  When we finally realized, after countless stops, that truly was it, we laughed.  So many stops, omg.  Either we were in denial or very optimistic, not quite sure.

A whole aisle of rosé…  let that sink in…

A whole aisle of rosé

The fresh seafood of the market was truly fresh!

Like walking around fresh 😬

Now that we’re back and can reflect, the whole thing is much like our fast food here, where every place is just burgers, chicken sandwiches, and fries.  Would have loved to find a mexican or pizza joint mixed in there tho, omg.  Come to think of it, I take it back.  We have a ton of variety.  Lots of fast food options and quick lunch spots.  I wonder what our tourists think of our food.  I’ve heard our portions are large… agreed, but what else?

Paris at night

Final thoughts...

France, for me, is like the B side of a favorite album.  The A-side has all the greatest hits that everyone knows and loves.  It’s familiar.  You know what to expect.  You love hitting the musical changes right on beat.

The B-side is different.  It’s not typically played.  It is something one has to experience on their own.  With no commentary echoing far in the background, you look, listen, and feel for the first time, feeling all the similarities, but, strangely, noticing all the differences.  It leaves you a little mixed up.  You even fight it a little, but it’s so familiar… so why aren’t you connecting.  It goes from, do I like it?… I don’t know… I think I do… let me give it a minute… to… hell yeah I do… this is awesome.  The B-side experience.  At least it happens that way for me anyway.

So there I am looking at Paris for the first time and realizing how familiar and different everything is at the exact same moment.  Same people, same roads, same city look, same restaurant wait, same hotel front desk, same workers, but a new version, the B-side.   It’s familiar in inspiration is what it is.  There were many times I had to just take a second and remind myself, hey, Em, you’re in France!!  I kinda felt unappreciative or something.  How I could possibly forget!!!  It was weird.

The second time around will be so wonderful.  I’ll know just what to expect from this amazing B-side.  I’m sooo exccciiiiteeed!

Random thoughts:

  • A single baguette on the street
    How did this happen?? saddest baguette ever…

    Just the amount of people walking around with a baguette…  seriously.

  • The french people do not subscribe to anything colorful, from clothing to personality.  No jokes, sarcasm, or silliness.  It simply is not understood, so don’t be sad when your stupid joke doesn’t get a pity laugh.  I was.
  • No sweatshirts or sneakers, just boots, all kinds.
  • Everything is about efficiency in France, which is nice and refreshing.
  • Nobody got the memo on the health risks of smoking.
  • Everyone is thin.
  • Cheese, croissants, and baguettes galore.

Traveling and boating friends, here are some tips, trix, and takeaways (click tabs below for info)

  • Taking the train, are ya?

    Tips

    Clock tower in Amboise France

    ~ The train connects right at CDG in terminal 2.

    ~ Be sure to check-in at the very specific time specified on your ticket.

    A couple couples had to take the next train because they did not “check-in three hours prior.”

    Good to know!

    ~ Buy fully refundable fares.

    Your flight could be delayed or even cancelled.

    Trix

    ~ We’ll take the train next time and update this post.

    ~ It was mentioned to us to take first class, don’t take second class.  Nuff said.

    Takeaways
    Emily doing a snapchat on the airplane

    ~ The cost €60-100 second class and €80-120 first class, which is a joke if you see below what it really cost us.  Whoa!

    Coulda, shoulda, woulda.

    ~ You are limited on luggage to what you can carry.  No additional baggage fees, but it is shared space so consider that others will have luggage too.

    ~ Loved the drive and the freedom to roam, we’ll see how we feel on the tracks.

    ~ Snapchat anyone?

    Check us out:  svseaodyssey

  • Renting a car, are ya?

    Tips
    Emily jumping in front of some wall graffiti

    ~ Do not speed.  Period.

    There are changes in speed where cars come on and off the highway that is meant for all, not just the enter/exit lane.  We might have gotten our ticket in a construction zone tho, we still don’t entirely know, LOL.

    ~ Pedestrians have a green light during your green sometimes.

    This is a perpendicular experience, folks! 

    Pedestrians are crossing your path with green, not going with traffic.

    ~ A rental car when you book your plane ticket starts at €15 a day.  Larger rental cars that will hold your guests and luggage upgraded at the airport are an additional €60 per day.  Best to book one that seems too big upfront.  Believe me, you’ll need it just for two people and luggage.

    Trix

    ~ The GPS in the vehicles are great.

    ~ Gas was more than we expected, €250.

    ~ Toll roads?  Didn’t even cross our minds.  €80/€40 each way for taking a direct route to La Rochelle, possibly about the cost of the extra fuel to take a more scenic route.Chauffeur looking in the rear view mirror

    ~ Parking expenses was more than we hoped.  Finding street parking is not realistic and also have allotted times.  Since the paid parking was so secure, we got lazy.  We had all our stuff in the car and didn’t want to unload to load again at each hotel, so we kept everything in the car, (something we would not have done in the US), so €30/night = €270

    Takeaways
    Cars parked on the side of the road with building windows symmetrical
    Oddly satisfying???

    ~ Their upgraded 5 passenger car is just a regular car 4 passenger car in the US.  Their 4 passenger car is truly a 4 passenger car.

    ~ Finding street parking is unrealistic, just like any big city I guess, but you don’t truly know the law.  Getting towed away in a foreign country would be a complete and total nightmare.

    ~ Paid hotel parking was sometimes off site underground and/or locked behind gates, unnerving to drive to but very secure.

    ~ Loved the drive.  Would have liked to have stopped at more places, especially at that price, omg.

  • Need to sleep, do ya?

    Tips

    ~ Get a hotel by the main metro routes for sure.  Be sure to google a map of the metro and take a look see or ask your friend, Ben Ben, if you have one.

    M is for, you got it, Metro!
    Trix

    ~ Buy beer/wine and put it in frig.

    If you are not already in the habit of stocking your frig with booze, then try to remember.  $$

    ~ Buy a baguette every day for one euro! regardless if you have a hotel breakfast.

    There will be no butter.  Enjoy plain.

    There isn’t really much in the way of the American snack, like crackers, chips, fruit, at the convenience stores.

    Not really any convenience stores either.

    Stock up on snacks when you see them, don’t wait.

    ~ Be sure to go for walks at night.  France is beautiful at night.  It just shines.

    Takeaways
    Hotel lobby crazy couch and wall painting

    ~ The breakfast is unlike an American breakfast in that there is only various breads and cheeses, possibly small yogurt.  Matt and I loved this the first couple days, then we started to feel we had enough bread and cheese.

    ~ We walked everywhere mostly, but we are walkers.  Bring good comfortable shoes, I mean boots, lol.

  • Need to eat, do ya?

    Tips

    ~ Do not use any plate as a bread plate.  There are no bread plates.  You were not given a bread plate.  So when you see a plate as you are seated, understand it is only for show.  It is not a bread plate.  Your crumbs go on the table, as does your bread.  You were told.

    ~ Pizza and burgers are eaten with a fork in France.  Unbiased, burgers are sandwiches.  So, no.  No fork.  But pizza?  Fine.  I’ll agree to say is subjective.

    Receipt for beer

    ~ Tipping is not required.  This is unnerving.  Do you not leave a tip and be the stingy American and feel like shit or do you tip and be the show-off American and feel dumb?  You feel bad not leaving a tip and leaving 20% is gratuitous.  So we left 10%.  Idk.  Smh.  Awkward.

    Trix

    ~ Google Translate or other image translator app.  You hold your phone over the words and it translates the words instantly.  Best thing ever.  You just scroll down the menu and it does its thing.

    ~ Carry a little pocket french dictionary for the words that don’t translate easily and for phrases.  It was quicker to use the book at times.

    Course, I’m a nerd, so there is that.

    ~ Tipping?  Bring some cash for a tip if you are paying for food with a credit card.  There is no tip line on the credit card receipt.

    Takeaways

    ~ There aren’t always people who speak English.  If there is a person, it is impossible for them to read the whole damn menu and you’ll be sooo tempted to ask away.  Be prepared with the app. 😉

    Baguette sandwiches all lined up in display
    This ain’t no Burger King. You can’t have it your way.  It’s all good.  I’m more of a McD’s anyway, I’m loving it.

Comments

  1. Food – a seasoned cruising friend told us early on that everyone eats, everywhere. Which is true. But they probably don’t eat what you are used to. So, bring the specialties that you cannot get anywhere else but which make life special (e. g. real maple syrup), fill in with what is always available (chicken, eggs, onions, rice) and plan to learn to love what they do. Some maybe not, like poi.

    1. Emily says:

      Hiya! Yeah what you say here is the reality of it all and I’m sure I’ll adjust. But more to the heart of the matter, I truly hope to embrace these new foods and I fear I won’t cause, well, I’m a bit of a germaphobe. Flies!!!! Also, I am depressed about the idea of every bite being an experience or challenge. As you can tell, I have a flair for dramatic writing… it makes me laugh. I’m not literally depressed, lol. It’s all going to work out. This I 100% know. Just having some fun with what I am working out. Oh and parasites in the fish, OK. I’m going to STARVE! ;oD

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